VA NY Harbor Healthcare System
Mitt, Rifle & Community
Wednesday, October 4, 2017
Baseball player to combat soldier to community activist, WWII hero, Rocco Moretto loves life. At 93, he's done all the many things he set out to do and received many acknowledgements.
A resident at VA’s Community Living Center in St. Albans, Queens for the past five months, he started out in hard times in Hell’s Kitchen.. He’s imaginable as a tough, kind-hearted urchin who somehow didn't get caught up in the misfortunes that befell many local children of that era. Love of baseball kept him off the streets.
Joining the Children's Aid Society baseball team in his neighborhood at age 8, Moretto and his teammates competed at playgrounds around the city with other Children's Aid Society teams. Moretto is astonishingly positive - about everything. He says, "Soldiers with whom he served were the greatest people in the world. There isn’t a day since WW II that I haven’t thought about those great people.” About his fellow workers at the old Pennsylvania Station where he worked for 44 years as a baggage supervisor, he says about his fellow workers, “They were wonderful. It was a fantastic job. We had closeness. It was a joy to work with them.” Moretto married in 1949. He and his wife had one son who recently retired from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Moretto's WW II War experience is a history lesson or movie. In those days, once drafted, you stayed until the end,” says Moretto. He served almost three years. “Everybody was patriotic. That’s why it was called the greatest generation,” he says.
D-Day started Moretto’s military career. From his website: “I served with Company C 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion, more affectionately known as the Big Red One, and our division motto was ‘No mission too difficult, no sacrifice too great, duty first,” and I have strived to live my life with that motto always in mind.
Rocco Moretto belonged to one of the first waves of 18-year-olds conscripted to serve in World War II. On D-Day, he waded ashore alongside his comrades in the celebrated but tragic 1st Infantry Division. Of the 219 soldiers in his unit alone, 217 were either killed or seriously injured, leaving only Moretto and one other GI to survive the war without serious injury.
Moretto fought continuously, with almost no sleep, until mid-June. After a brief respite, “We helped close the Falaise Gap in early August. Company C was in heavy fighting in the Huertgen Forest as summer became autumn, then winter. Company C was transferred to the 2nd Battalion just in time for the Bulge.
Moretto remembers constantly using his Garand rifle during three days of fighting between Dec. 17 and 19. At one juncture, he sighted on a pair of German soldiers charging up a snow-covered rise about 40 feet away and pumped bullets into them.
Between pointblank firefights, Moretto’s best friend, Sgt. Bob Wright, was killed by an exploding German artillery shell only feet in front of Moretto’s foxhole.
The end of the Battle of the Bulge was officially announced on Jan. 7, 1945.”
Coming home from war, Moretto took 30 days off and then rejoined his job as a baggage supervisor. He stayed with the job he loved until his retirement 44 years later. “I did have flashbacks, but it didn’t affect my work.” With endless energy, Moretto engaged in baseball for children for the next 28 years, organizing a local Little League and for six years, although he is not Jewish, he coordinated a team for a local synagogue.
At the same time, he got deeply involved in other projects to improve quality of neighborhood life. For example, he organized a tenant patrol at his housing complex in Astoria, Queens where he lived. Initially, the complex was mostly home to returning WWII Veterans. For this achievement in housing safety, Moretto was awarded a Certificate for Outstanding Community Service in 1966, from the New York City Housing Administration at City Hall. This presentation was made to him by the then Mayor, John Lindsay.
Honored also beyond the Unites States, on June 6, 2004, Rocco was invited to Normandy, France for D-Day’s 60th Anniversary. He was presented the Legion of Honor Award from the government of France, the country’s highest military honor. He attended the ceremony in France with his son. His community achievements, wartime service and dedication to fellow Veterans were then honored when his local VFW Post 2348 in Astoria was renamed for him on June 6, 2013.
The early baseball connection is still robust. Moretto remains in touch with some of the “kids” on the baseballs teams he coordinated. One former team player, now in his 60's, “just visited the other day."